The first thing that artist Barbara Harmer says about her work is there is absolutely no paint in any of it — no acrylics, oil, or watercolor. “And that stops [people] cold,” she says.
Incredulously, admirers of her art ask what she’s using.
Her medium is called washi —traditional Japanese handmade and hand-dyed paper. By tearing and collaging washi paper of different colors, weights, and textures, Barbara creates art known as Chigiri-e. In Japanese, “chigiri” means to tear or shred, and “e” means picture.
Barbara learned this art form in the 1990s while teaching English as a second language in Japan. There, she happened upon a flier for Chigiri-e lessons. There was only one problem: the instructor didn’t speak English, and she didn’t speak Japanese. Barbara learned by watching.
As she started dabbling in the technique, she was continually amazed by the beautiful washi and the long process to create and dye it. She saw first-hand how painstakingly the papermakers processed the fibers, purified the pulp, and hung the sheets to dry. She began collecting washi paper, and colleagues gave her more as a gift.
Washi quickly became Barbara’s obsession. “Oh my god, I’m in love, are you kidding me?,” she beams. “I’m addicted to paper. I can’t stop spending money on washi paper. I mean, I’ve got paper that I haven’t touched yet because it’s so beautiful. But I wanted it, I needed it, I had to have it!”
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